One American City Took on the Surveillance Society – and Won.

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August 31, 2016
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September 1, 2016

Our friends across the pond have taken notice of the success of Oakland Privacy Working Group proclaiming that “Oakland is an inspiring story of what people can achieve when they demand to have control of the technology being used to gather data about them.” Author Timandra Harkness examines the success of OPWG in a chapter of her new book, Big Data: Does Size Matter? 

Although Harkness focuses on what happened in Oakland, the lessons are useful for activists anywhere in the United States, as she explains in an article for Spiked:

Oakland Privacy’s cause was certainly helped by the US Constitution. This gives citizens some clear grounds on which to defend their own privacy. The Fourth Amendment, for example, gives protection against ‘general searches and seizures’. It’s not acceptable to search every house in a street, for example. Authorities need a specific warrant.

This Fourth Amendment protection clearly touches on a technology that collects data indiscriminately, whether it’s a CCTV camera identifying licence plates or cell-site simulators such as Stingray, which intercept all the cellphone signals within range. That means not only identifying the phone but collecting the metadata: the duration of calls; who is phoning who; and who is sending and receiving messages.

Freedom of speech and of association, safeguarded by the First Amendment, also underpin a defence of privacy. Hofer cites the case of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a civil-rights campaign group. ‘There’s a famous Supreme Court case’, says Hofer, in which the authorities were ‘trying to get the NAACP to revealin its membership rolls, so they could target those involved with the NAACP. And the Supreme Court said: “No, they have freedom of association.”’

Without the capacity to organise privately, members of the NAACP could not associate freely.

OPWG is diligently trans-partisan, and when Harkness spoke with OPWG member Brian Hofer, who serves as chair of the Oakland Privacy Advisory Commission, and was BORDC/DDF’s  Patriot Award winner in March, he  told her why privacy is important across the spectrum:

‘From the other end of the political spectrum, here in California with our Proposition Eight fight over same-sex marriage, the lefties, the progressives, were trying to force the conservatives to reveal their donors and membership rolls. And we’re like: No, we already decided this issue! It’s like we didn’t learn much. Whether you’re left or right we’re still going after freedom of conscience and trying to get rid of it.’

While mass surveillance is often regarded primarily as a privacy or Fourth Amendment issues, the repercussions for the First Amendment — our right to free speech, association and assembly — are significant. Hofer hits the nail on the head when he explained to Harness:

Nowadays, sure, the NAACP doesn’t have to turn over its membership roll, but the National Security Agency can get in its computer anyway. Or it just uses a Stingray and intercepts phone communications while sitting outside your building. The NSA just uses a licence-plate reader and drives around the building and looks at the licence-plate numbers. So effectively court decisions are meaningless if surveillance equipment is able just to be used indiscriminately.’

Read the full article here: Oakland Vs Big Data Brother